When it comes to knee pain, people usually fall into one of two camps: those who are afraid to exercise because they are afraid it will harm their knees even more and cause more pain; and those who believe in “no pain, no gain.” The good news is, there is a middle ground, and it is all to the benefit of your joints!
You need to exercise to strengthen your knee joint so it will stay stable and properly aligned, to maintain or increase knee joint flexibility, and to improve circulation to the knee joint, which provides nutrition to the cartilage. A well-planned, individual exercise program, which you can develop with a physical therapist or knowledgeable kinesiologist or trainer, can allow you to reach and maintain these goals without incurring pain or causing harm to your knee joints.
Such an exercise program might include weight training or bicycling to strengthen the muscles that surround your knee, tai chi or the Alexander Technique to improve balance, and yoga or stretching exercises to improve flexibility. It should also include specific muscle strengthening exercises designed to support your knees and protect them from injury and pain; and stretching exercises, which can achieve the same goals and should be done following strength exercises.
Knee Exercise Tips
If you are experiencing knee pain, you should first consult your physician or a physical therapist before you begin any knee exercise program. He or she may recommend specific strengthening and stretching exercises for your specific needs. Generally, you should always warm up before beginning each exercise session. Five minutes of light aerobics such as walking or riding a stationary bike can warm up your muscles and joints and thus help prevent knee injury.
Because muscles tend to tighten up after performing strengthening exercises, it is usually more beneficial to do stretching exercises after you complete your strengthening routine. Some people prefer to do their stretching and strengthening exercises on different days; others choose to stretch both before and after each strengthening exercise session.
Remember to breathe. This may sound like an insignificant tip, but holding your breath places more stress on the body. If you hold your breath while bearing down, for example, you can significantly elevate your blood pressure. Holding your breath also can reduce blood flow to the brain and increase pressure in your chest.
If you overdo your exercise program and experience inflamed muscles or tendons, see “Simple Knee Pain Treatments.” Your knee pain should be completely gone before you return fully to your knee exercise program. However, some light exercising of the sore muscle may help reduce muscle soreness, increase circulation to the joint and help reduce inflammation.
Sample Knee Exercises
Here are two common types of knee exercises. Do not attempt these exercises until you consult your healthcare provider.
Isometric Knee Exercise: This exercise strengthens the quadriceps (thigh muscles in the front) and hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thighs) and thus helps stabilize the knee.
- Sit on the floor and put your legs straight out in front of you.
- Place a pillow or rolled towel under the small of the affected knee, then tighten the muscles in your leg without moving your knee.
- Hold the muscle contraction for several seconds, then relax.
- Repeat the contraction and relaxing routine up to 25 times.
- Over time, increase the amount of time you hold the muscle contraction until you reach about 30 seconds
Seated Leg Lifts: This exercise is a modified version of the isometric knee exercise and is also back friendly!
- Sit on the floor with your back against a wall and put your legs straight out in front of you. Place a small pillow in the small of your back.
- Tighten the muscles in your leg without moving your knee and hold the contraction for five seconds.
- Raise your leg a few inches off the floor and hold it for five seconds, then lower it and relax for five seconds.
Repeat this cycle two or three more times. Over time, gradually increase the number of cycles you do, up to three sets of ten lifts each.